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This content is taken from the Keio University's online course, 古書から読み解く日本の文化: 漢籍の受容. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds Horikawa: Hello, everyone. Today we are at the Ashikaga Gakkō (Ashikaga School) which is located approximately 70 km from Tokyo, in Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture. The Ashikaga Gakko is known as the oldest school in Japan. Some trace its origins as far back as the 9th century, but the earliest solid evidence dates from the 15th century. Regardless, this is one of the key sites in the history of academic studies in Japan. The Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier, who traveled to Japan in the 16th century, described it as Japan’s largest and most famous university. So, Prof. Takahashi, what kind of courses were taught in this venerable center of learning?

Skip to 1 minute and 2 seconds Takahashi: First of all, the classic texts of Confucianism (the so-called Four Books and the Five Classics). A special place was occupied by our theme for this week, the Analects of Confucius. In addition to these, in the 16th century, there were courses on practical subjects, such as divination and the military arts.

Skip to 1 minute and 28 seconds Horikawa: Who taught and studied here?

Skip to 1 minute and 32 seconds Takahashi: The teachers were Zen priests, probably affiliates of the Five Mountain temples (Gozan) in Kamakura. The students were samurais and Buddhist priests from all over Japan. They used the knowledge they acquired here to serve their respective feudal lords (daimyos) and played an important role in politics and military affairs.

Skip to 2 minutes and 19 seconds Horikawa: What kind of impact can the Analects, an ancient Chinese text, have had on these activities?

Skip to 2 minutes and 28 seconds Takahashi: The Analects are said to be the first Chinese book to be introduced in Japan (around the end of the 3rd century CE). They were widely read since ancient times, but by the 15th and 16th centuries, not only the nobility and the clergy but also the samurai class came to regard them as the basis of moral conduct and as a repository of wisdom. Their influence can clearly be seen from the “family precepts” (kakun) written by the great feudal families and other such texts.

Skip to 3 minutes and 13 seconds Horikawa: And then, once the era of civil war ended, their influence stretched even further, to ordinary people, didn’t it?

Skip to 3 minutes and 20 seconds Takahshi: In Japan, the first printed edition of the Analects was published in the 14th century, but from the 17th century onwards there was a veritable flood of editions of the Analects.

Skip to 3 minutes and 35 seconds Horikawa: And their popularity has not waned even in the modern period…

Skip to 3 minutes and 38 seconds Takahashi: That’s correct. In fact, courses on how to read the Analects aloud are taught in this very room. New translations and annotated editions continue to come out regularly, and courses on the Analects are taught, here and throughout Japan, to all sorts of students.

Skip to 4 minutes and 15 seconds Horikawa: As you can see, the Analects occupy a very important place in Japanese culture. Why has this book written 2500 years ago continued to be read and loved for so long to this very day? In Week 2, Prof. Takahashi will explain for us the enduring appeal of the work using original ancient texts in both print and manuscript forms.



The PDF version of the course handout as well as the timeline for Week 2 are available in the DOWNLOADS section below. Please check them out!

Some words and names that may be unfamiliar to learners are listed in the glossary for each week. For Week2, it’s located in the last step of this week. The PDF version is also available.

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This video is from the free online course:

古書から読み解く日本の文化: 漢籍の受容

Keio University